Surely a full on haka would be a better Air NZ greeting than this?

What could possibly go wrong with Air New Zealand trying out the Commbank’s Chip Candroid ‘social humanid robot’ as a check-in and gate assistant at SYD this week?

Well, it might scare your children or even some adults going by the photo (above) supplied by the airline.

Bring on an android, or whatever, that looks like one of the denizens of Middle Earth, so popular in its pre-flight safety videos, and everyone encountering such a mannequin like device would probably be delighted.

Consider the core claims made in this statement from the Kiwi carrier.

Air New Zealand Chief Digital Officer Avi Golan says “this partnership and experiment with Commbank and Chip is another way we are pushing the boundaries to ensure we remain at the forefront of technology which will allow us to further enhance the experience we offer our customers.”

Air New Zealand has worked with a range of technology partners to introduce innovations which are enhancing the experience it offers customers.  For example, Oscar, the artificial intelligence–backed chatbot has been introduced to assist customers with a more personalised online experience or biometric bag drops which identify customers using face-to-passport recognition.

“We are also experimenting with potential enhancements of the future, including the idea of our cabin crew one day using Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality viewers onboard our aircraft,” says Mr Golan.

OK, so far. As the statement goes on to say, some information might be better presented by a robot than on a screen, but that doesn’t mean it would in any way be an improvement over  real life New Zealanders possessed of more charm, and common sense, than something with a chip memory limited playlist of responses and a faint resemblance to a horror movie like the Terminator or with the social graces of Hannibal Lector.

Trouble is, real humans need salaries, superannuation contributions, and account keeping resources, which are largely automated these days anyhow in programs that run in back offices where no-one has to deal with the public.

We might even question the use of the term ‘robotics’, in that it is something of a buzz word, used for image building or by organisations seeking some fresh source of relevance in product window dressing.

There is a distinction between ‘popular’ robotics and the much less widely popularised term ‘automation.’ It is automation that has changed markedly the way aircraft are flown and the consumer interface (another buzz word) with do-it-yourself passport and baggage procedures, saving megabucks for airlines through those processes.

It might prove hard to take the sincerity of the robots seriously at Air NZ check ins and gates until they are programmed to respond in painful detail for Australian customers with conversations about the All Blacks and Rugby.

Maybe this is already part of a grander design by the Kiwi carrier to not only help but ‘educate’ their customer base.

In other news Air New Zealand today reported lower but nevertheless impressive profitability in the year to June 30.

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